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Parliamentary Questions

Question Without Notice No. 31 asked in the Legislative Council on 12 February 2020 by Hon Robin Scott

Parliament: 40 Session: 1

Answered on 12 February 2020

DROUGHT — SOUTHERN RANGELANDS

31. Hon ROBIN SCOTT to the Minister for Agriculture and Food:

I refer to the federal government's snub of the Western Australian southern rangelands in the recent drought funding allocations.

(1) When did the minister find out that the federal government would not be providing drought-affected areas with much needed funding?

(2) What action has the minister taken to try to address this terrible oversight by the federal government?

(3) Does the minister acknowledge that as long as she refuses to acknowledge that there is a drought in WA, no meaningful assistance will be provided to drought-affected farmers and pastoralists?

Hon ALANNAH MacTIERNAN replied:

I thank the member for the question.

(1)–(3) I have explained before how we have moved away from the concept of a declaration of drought. I will give the member a copy of the maps that show exactly what the rainfall position has been over the last four years. That having been said, we completely and utterly understand that 2019 was a horror year across the state. I think the important insight that needs to come with that is that most of these assistance measures are available based on actual need. I have personally written to every pastoralist explaining how they can access things such as the household assistance scheme and the concessional loan regime.

Hon Robin Scott: Have you actually spoken to the pastoralists?

Hon ALANNAH MacTIERNAN: Yes, I had a meeting in Leonora and I speak to groups of pastoralists quite often. I convened a meeting in Leonora in November and I am in dialogue with them, as is the department. The department has done 120 visits in the last six months. We are absolutely very conscious that this has been a difficult time. We are very pleased to note that over the last week six weeks, we have had two sets of rain episodes that have gone some way to helping many of those areas. I presume that what the member referenced in parts (1) and (2) was the quite bizarre announcement by Minister Littleproud that finally—we had been agitating for this—some Western Australian local governments should have been included in the grant schemes for local governments. He seemed to say that he was addressing this issue, but as we have said before, people were very puzzled that some of the most challenged areas such as Laverton, Yalgoo and Wiluna were not included whereas Busselton, Bridgetown and Albany were.

The chronic problem we have is that the metric that has been drawn up works for the eastern states. This happens with governments of both persuasions. I have seen it happen with Labor governments, too. They devise a national scheme, whether it is for drought or solar rebates, and it is all designed around the metrics of the eastern states and it does not work over here. I presume that the formula that was drawn up made sense given the weather patterns and climates of the eastern states, but it was completely ludicrous here. I do not want to suggest that the areas around Busselton have not had lower than average rainfall—they have—but because they are relatively high rainfall areas, the impact was not as great as the same level of decline in low rainfall areas.

Minister Kelly and I wrote a joint letter to Minister Littleproud pointing out that we thought that the calculation system is fundamentally wrong with clear errors in it. For example, one of the reasons that Laverton missed out was because it has mining activity, so it is not reliant substantially on the income generally from farming. Our argument was that that would also apply to Busselton where tourism and hospitality are major economic drivers in the region. We think that was silly. As I said, looking forward we are very keen to get access to the future drought fund and develop a series of projects that will really start addressing how we build long-term resilience into our farming systems.